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‘The Lion King’ Captures the Spirit of the Original While Delivering Game-Changing VFX – Review

In my review for Toy Story 4 I mentioned that 2019 has been an interesting year for the film industry, especially for Disney. Besides their Marvel Studios films and Star Wars, Disney has been focusing on bringing their original classics to life for the generation that grew up with it, and for a new generation of kids. The Lion King is Disney’s latest remake. 

Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny on the African savanna. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother, and former heir to the throne has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is soon ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. Now, with the help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba must figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

Being a fan of the original film, I can say that the re-imagining of the animated story was incredible. Using what he learned from The Jungle Book and with the constant improvement in technology, Jon Favreau was able to bring animation to a new level, while still capturing what made the original movie special. Favreau stated that only one shot in the entire film was real and everything else was animated which was hard to hard to believe because it honestly looked like a National Geographic documentary. The VFX team and animators deserve so much praise for their phenomenal work on this movie. The re-telling of the story sticks pretty close to the source material, but also includes different elements from the musical adaptation, and I believe it worked for the best. When the movie started and Lebo M’s iconic opening song “Circle of Life” began to play, it made me feel like a kid again and from there, I sat back and got a chance to revisit my childhood in a new way. 

Of course, we cannot talk about the film without mentioning the incredible cast. I’m so glad they were able to bring back James Earl Jones as Mufasa. When you hear his voice for the first time in the film, it feels like you’re listening to it for the very first time again. Chiwetel Ejiofor had a lot to live up to while voicing of Scar (who was originally voiced by Jeremy Irons) and I’ve got to say, he knocked it out of the park. I wasn’t too familiar with JD McCrary before this film, but I thought he was perfect as Young Simba. He was able to deliver a wide range of emotions just by using his voice (which is hard to do) and he pulled it off brilliantly. Coming off the heels of Jordan Peele’s Us, Shahadi Wright Joseph voices Young Nala. Joseph is no stranger to The Lion King as she played young Nala on Broadway for five years, and it definitely showed in the film. Joseph and McCrary have very bright futures ahead of them, and are two stars you need to watch out for.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

Now, let’s talk about the older version of Simba and Nala played by Donald Glover and Beyoncé, respectively. I was impressed with Beyoncé’s voice acting. She was able to bring the same energy as the young Nala, while still bringing her own her flavor to the older version. Glover was great as the older Simba. Young Simba and older Simba felt a tad different from the original, but it still worked.  Alfre Woodard was such a good choice to voice Sarabi, and it felt like they gave the character a little more to do in this movie versus the animated version. John Kani as Rafiki was another great pick. I’d like to think Favreau did this on purpose because the scene when Rafiki is reminding Simba of who he is, reminded me of the scene in Black Panther when T’Challa goes to the ancestral plane and sees T’Chaka. 

Then we have Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as Timon and Pumbaa. They were absolutely hilarious and stole every scene they were in. It felt like they told Billy Eichner to just play himself and although Rogen isn’t the best singer, I believe it actually helped his character. Rogen and Eichner worked so well with one another, it was like they were born to play these roles. I wouldn’t be mad about a Timon and Pumbaa spin-off on the new Disney streaming service (Disney+) once it launches at the end of the year. Keegan-Michael Key, Florence Kasumba and Eric Andre were perfect as the hyenas Kamari, Shenzi and Azizi. In fact, Kasumba previously played Shenzi on Broadway before landing her role in the film, and she absolutely crushes it. Key and Andre had great comedic banter between them that had the entire audience laughing.  

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

Due to the the animals being made as realistic as possible, they couldn’t be as expressive in their emotions like they were in the animated version. Therefore, the voice acting really had to deliver to make sure the audience could connect with these characters. The powerhouse cast did a great job at delivering their lines, while still adding a new and fresh spin to the characters. 

Composer Hans Zimmer and Producer Pharrell delivered such a beautiful score and soundtrack. As I mentioned above, there were some limitations with the emotions in the animals themselves, but the score really elevated a lot of the scenes to help reach the emotional peaks that hit you in the original movie. Beyoncé’s new song for the film, “Spirit” is amazing and a special album “The Lion King: The Gift”, is set to be released on July 19 featuring global recording artists, steeped in the sounds of Africa, produced and curated by Beyoncé herself.  

If you were a fan of the original animated film, I believe you will love this remake. From the VFX, to the voice acting, I was truly impressed that they were able to pull off something as big as this, especially with the original being so iconic and a favorite to many. Ultimately, Favreau and the cast did enough to capture and pay homage to the source material, while adding new elements that will please both lovers of the animated version and the new generation witnessing The Lion King for the first time.

The Lion King hits theaters July 19!

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